Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Importance of Friends

Friendships matter, and I've had two experiences this week to remind me of that truth.

On Sunday, we celebrated my mother-in-law Kathy's 70th birthday. A few months ago, Dan's siblings and I started working on a unique birthday present for her. We used a company called LifeOnRecord, to "rent" a phone number and voicemail box. We contacted loved ones and asked them to leave a message for Kathy: a birthday greeting, a sentimental tribute, or a funny memory.

At the party, we presented Kathy with a CD of forty recordings. There were messages from nieces and nephews, neighbors, grandchildren, siblings, and in-laws. When we first started playing the recordings, Kathy's face had a look of intrigue and surprise.

A few tracks in, intrigue gave way to tenderness and her eyes filled with tears as she heard the voice of her kids' third-grade teacher. Soon after, laughter replaced the tears when a cousin's voice recalled funny stories from childhood. The tears returned when the voice of Kathy's best friend described the gift of Kathy's presence at her father's funeral.

I watched my mother-in-law's range of emotions with anticipation and empathy, riding the roller coaster of laughter and tears with her. As I watched her face, I realized Kathy has spent 70 years not knowing how loved she is. Haven't we all spent our lives with that same mindset, thinking we don't matter much in the big scheme of things?

Kathy melted when friends from her past - and present - gave her the cheapest and most priceless gift of all: words. They shared their memories and reminded Kathy she has a place in this world.

The words of friends can give you the location of your heart.

While witnessing this happen with my mother-in-law, God overlapped a second friendship lesson this week. I've had quite a few phone conversations, emails, and texts with one of my brother Jackson's best friends. Tobi met Jackson in college at West Point, and he is writing a memorial article about Jackson for a school publication.

Tobi has been gathering information about his life and achievements, reaching out to my family and Jackson's classmates. Yesterday and today, I helped Tobi with some of the editing. In that process, he shared stories I never knew and revealed a side of Jackson I had forgotten in my grief. We laughed about Jackson's perfectionism and razzed about him as if he were still here.

I realized this friend still holds pieces of my brother inside him. As long as Jackson's friends continue to live, so does he.

Talking to Tobi was like putting on an old, comfy sweatshirt I had stuffed in the back of my closet. I remembered the joy of being Jackson's sister and how he was a truly remarkable man. I remembered how my relationship with him shaped my view of the world and my self-worth. I thought to myself, "We should all live in such a way that memorial articles are written about us when we die, like Jackson." And then I caught myself comparing and competing with him, even twenty years after his death. I chuckled as gratitude for a brother who shaped me bubbled up inside my heart.

Remembering is where the inhale of knowledge becomes the exhale of gratitude: I remember, then I understand, and then I thank.

Friendships matter: not only the ones people have gifted to me, but also the friendships I have chosen to extend to others in my life. I think of the deep friendships that have wilted over time, or completely rotted on the vine. Yes, even those kinds of friendships matter too because we grow even in the heartache.

Watching Kathy and reminiscing with Tobi reminds me how friendships shape us, refine us, define us, and center us. Friendships can be our lifeline, because trusted friends can nudge you when you're wobbling off course or wipe your tears when sadness threatens to consume you. How do your friendships affect you? Do they grow you, mature you, or sustain you? And what kind of friend are you?

The healthy friendships in your life are an extension of God, an echo of His voice that names you through relationship with others. My prayer is that we will sense the presence of God in our friendships, since we are each made in His image.

1 comment:

Brina said...

This definitely brought tears to my eyes. "What kind of friend are you?", "As long as Jackson's friends live on, so does he."...beautifully written!


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